Lessons from Yala

by Ravi Nagahawatte
Yala was a place which I used to relish going to, not merely for the animals but for the serenity one gets to experience. A place cut out from human habitat, the Yala Safari Park gave me the ideal environment to be alone and rediscover who I was.

I was in love with its never changing environment particularly since I detest the slightest change in all things related to me. And in this ever changing world that occasional trip to Yala always helped me to realise how much, whenever it happened, I myself had changed as a person.

The trips to Yala always provided me with the opportunity to learn. Lessons in survival, patience and most importantly life, came to me as if in a class room.

My love for Yala increased when I read the novel ‘Twenty five years in the jungle’ by the late Thambugala Anandasiri Thero who lived in the jungle hermitage of Kudumbigala.

The elephants guarding their offspring reminds humans how to be available for their children. A crocodile bathing in the sun reminds the busiest executive as to how he should relax. And a leopard who makes a successful kill shows us how to be focused when pursuing a goal. Entering Yala for the first time as a kid I read a sign board which stated that no visitor had the right to take away even a grain of sand from the sanctuary. Since then no one has needed to teach me how to protect assets of all forms.

Once I was bathing with my brother and some of our friends in a lagoon at Yala when our guide cautioned us not to go near its corners. He said that crocodiles lived in holes dug on the banks of the lagoon and that they had the habit of preying on anything which got into the water. It was only in the night that we realised the importance of sensing danger at appropriate situations when we saw gleaming red eyes all over the river.

We don’t have lions in Sri Lanka therefore the elephant plays the role of king in the jungle. Once we saw a herd of buffalo sitting on the banks of a river. A bull elephant walked towards the buffaloes who were all lying on the grass. An amazing spectacle took place the moment the elephant passed the buffaloes. All the buffaloes stood up when the elephant passed them. The buffaloes later returned to their reclining positions. It was a perfect reminder of how to deal with respected individuals in society.

Water is often a problem when we travel in Yala. We have always been forced to conserve drinking water in Yala by our cautious mother. Whenever we return home from Yala we have ample reason to be ashamed of ourselves when we see how water is wasted.

Once when we were travelling in our vehicle we saw a hawk eating the eggs of a smaller bird. Watching this sad sight from a few feet away was the mother bird who had laid the eggs. Our guide stopped us from intervening and saving some of the eggs yet untouched by the hawk. The guide explained to us as to how we would have denied an animal in the jungle a meal by saving the life of another. We were given a reminder of the importance of not disturbing someone who is having a meal.

Monkeys sometime can become a nuisance, especially when they get into a boisterous mood. A ransacked hall or room is what one could see when the monkeys generally go berserk. This is a time when naughty kids get a taste of their own medicine.

There is always the temptation to do something unlawful at Yala. These questionable acts can range from killing an animal, cutting timber or bringing home a souvenir even if it is the size of a grain of sand. The authorities have put up a museum at Yala where visitors can buy a memento. I, however, prefer to bring home memories of Yala which serve as an unseen link between wildlife and myself. Memories of Yala are strong, so strong that I only have to close my eyes to travel to my most favourite place on earth.